PLACE NAMES: How did Revelstoke leave the West Kootenay?

In the 1890s, there was no doubt that Revelstoke was part of the Kootenay. But now?

Three hundred seventh in a series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

Having exhaustively studied — and utterly failed to resolve — whether Creston is in the West Kootenay or East Kootenay, we turn our attention to another geographical conundrum: how and when did Revelstoke leave the West Kootenay?

It might surprise some Revelstoke residents to learn their city was ever considered part of West Kootenay, but that is the case. In fact, one of the earliest mentions of West Kootenay is in a letter Gilbert Malcolm Sproat dated “West Kootenay district, Farwell, BC, 18th August 1888.”

(Farwell is an old name for Revelstoke, or at least part of it.)

Revelstoke’s first newspaper, founded in 1889, was the Kootenay Star. It was sold and renamed the Kootenay Mail in 1894, then amalgamated with the Revelstoke Herald in 1906 to become The Mail-Herald.

From April 22, 1893 to Feb. 2, 1900, the paper’s nameplate read: “Revelstoke, West Kootenay, BC.”

The Star of June 10, 1893 also noted: “Scarcely four years ago Revelstoke was the only town in West Kootenay.”

By some definitions, West Kootenay includes the Columbia River valley from the Big Bend south, which definitely includes Revelstoke. However, at some indistinct point, the city became socially detached from the rest of the region.

It seems to have occurred by the 1960s, if not sooner. Material produced for BC’s 1958 centennial and published in several newspapers stated: “Revelstoke rules the north end of the West Kootenay.”

Future Revelstoke-Slocan MLA Burt Campbell wrote in the Arrow Lakes News of May 26, 1962: “Besides Trail, other major centres of the Kootenays are Revelstoke on the north and Kimberley in the East …”

After that, it’s hard to find references describing Revelstoke as being in the Kootenays.

The Upper Arrow Lake ferry, which plies between Galena Bay and Shelter Bay, is an obvious physical and social barrier. The loss of several communities between Revelstoke and Nakusp due to the construction of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam in the 1960s also helped widen the social gulf between Revelstoke and its Kootenay neighbours.

Other points to ponder:

• Until the mid-1890s, Revelstoke was connected to points south on the Columbia River and Arrow Lakes by sternwheeler service. However, the Arrowhead to Revelstoke section was difficult to navigate, so the CPR built a rail line south to Arrowhead, which then became the northern terminus for sternwheeler traffic.

Revelstoke was not joined to the West Kootenay by highway south of Arrowhead until Highway 23 was completed to Nakusp in 1973. It wasn’t directly connected to the East Kootenay via Golden by road until 1962 (nor indirectly until 1940).

• The Revelstoke mining division was part of the West Kootenay mining district until 1899, when the Northwest Kootenay district was created (which also included Lardeau and Trout Lake divisions). It appears to have reverted to being part of the West Kootenay district about 1921.

• A group formed in the 1930s called the North Kootenay Pioneers’ Association was made up of people who had been in Revelstoke since the early 1900s or earlier.

• Revelstoke is in the middle of the Columbia–Shuswap Regional District, incorporated in 1965 and headquartered in Salmon Arm.

• Revelstoke is in the Kootenay–Columbia federal riding, although it has previously been in Kootenay West–Revelstoke and Kootenay East–Revelstoke.

• Since 1991, Revelstoke has been in the provincial riding of Columbia River–Revelstoke. Prior to that it was in Shuswap-Revelstoke, Revelstoke-Slocan, and just Revelstoke.

• Revelstoke retains its own school district, despite having only four schools under its jurisdiction.

• Revelstoke is in the Thompson Cariboo Shuswap health service delivery area of Interior Health.

• The KIJHL’s Revelstoke Grizzlies play in the Okanagan/Shuswap conference, not the Kootenay conference, and most of their games are against Sicamous, Chase, Kamloops, and 100 Mile House.

• Revelstoke is included within the Okanagan Regional Library system and hosts an adult learning campus of Okanagan College.

• The BC Tel/Telus phone directory has long included Revelstoke within the Salmon Arm/Vernon region and Revelstoke’s traditional telephone exchange of 837 is in line with communities to the west (Salmon Arm 832/833, Mica Creek 834, Tappen 835, Sicamous 836, Enderby 838). Revelstoke’s newer exchange, 805, also follows Salmon Arm’s 803 and 804.

• Until BC tourism regions were reorganized in 2003 to create a strange district known as “Kootenay Rockies,” Revelstoke was grouped into the “Thompson Country,” which stretched from Merritt through Kamloops and the Shuswap north to Mount Robson.

If Revelstoke is no longer in the West Kootenay, where is it? Columbia, Columbia-Shuswap, and North Kootenay all seem possibilities.

A community profile prepared in 2015 notes the city has “transportation and economic ties with neighbouring geographic regions such as the Kootenays, the Shuswap, and the North Okanagan.” However, “because of its geographic location in the mountains, [it] is relatively isolated … and as a result stands alone in many respects.”

— With thanks to Kyle Kusch, Arrow Lakes Historical Society and Cathy English, Revelstoke Museum and Archives

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Revelstoke’s first newspapers were the Kootenay Star and Kootenay Mail. Their nameplates explicitly stated that the town was within West Kootenay.

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